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Judge: Some prisoners need to be released

With the county down two judges, Lycoming County President Judge Nancy Butts alerted the Prison Board that there is “a population of people that need to be released under Rule 600, which is the speedy trial rule under the Rules of Criminal Procedure.”

Under Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 600, “an individual arrested for a crime must be tried within six months of the date the complaint was filed if they are incarcerated and within one year of the date the charges were filed if the person is not in custody.”

Speaking at the board’s monthly meeting, Butts said that there are about four people at the present who have been incarcerated for 180 days awaiting trial.

What was needed, she said, is “a component where I can get them released and they may not have community contacts.”

“I need some resources to supervise them that supervised/intensive supervised bail can’t provide for me. For one reason or another they don’t qualify for that program. I need some other way. I can’t in good conscience I can’t just let people out and say, ‘OK, we’ll see you. Hope you show up in the future,'” Butts said.

She said that she had discussed this at a recent reentry meeting and had talked to officials with GEO Group Inc. Reentry Services about “creating a day reporting type program for me so that I can add that as a component of release.”

“So, it was on the spur of the moment that I turned to GEO and asked them if they would accept a limited number of people in this capacity,” she said, adding they agreed.

“I don’t want people to be in jail any longer than they have to be, and that’s what this would provide for, getting those people out of jail,” she stated.

“They’d have some oversight in the community because sometimes individuals in this circumstance, if they didn’t post bail, it may not be that they don’t have the resources, it may be because the seriousness of their charges has justified a higher level of bail and for one reason or another they haven’t been able to be tried in 180 days or a period of time, less any continuances,” she said.

“I don’t think any judge wants to let someone out with a higher prior record score or more significant contacts with the system without any accountability,” Butts stressed.

Although she had not discussed the proposal with the District Attorney’s office, Butts said that at no additional cost to the county, individuals could be released on nominal bail, which is essentially non-monitored bail with conditions. They would report daily to GEO (Reentry Services), and they could be required to undergo drug and alcohol assessments.

“That way if they don’t meet the criteria under intensive or supervised bail, I still have a way to get them out of jail which does not violate the law,” Butts told the board.

In addition, Butts requested that the county commissioners consider changing the name of the facility.

“We would like to propose a name change from the Reentry Services Center to Community Resource Center because then it would accurately reflect what they provide in terms of support to people in the community,” Butts said.

Although there would be no change to the contract with GEO, the county commissioners would have to make the decision for any changes. County Commissioner Scott Metzger, who was also at the Prison Board meeting, said that the judges’ request would have to be discussed.

“There are probably a number of reasons why we can’t get them to trial on time,” said County Commissioner Tony Mussare, “but I know that the commissioners have been pushing our state senator to appoint judges. This has been several weeks ago.”

Butts explained that applications for the position of judge in the county had closed earlier this month. The applications then go to the governor who selects one name. That goes to the state senate for approval after they determine if the person is suitable.

The state’s legislature is not in session a lot in May, so the soonest any movement could come on appointing a new judge might be by the end of June or the beginning of July, Butts said.

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